Why I Hate Michael Vick with All of My Heart

For 8 years I have been having the same debate with people.  Ever since Vick went to jail for financing a heinous dogfighting ring called Bad Newz Kennels, I have been explaining why I hope he rots in hell.

There are people who think he deserved to be re-hired as a glorious QB in the NFL.  People who praise his comebacks.  Very recently, people who voted him to be in the Virginia Tech Hall of Fame.  And just a few weeks ago, he was hired as an intern coach in Kansas City.  Each of these events spark fuel on both sides.  The group who feels he has redeemed himself and deserves a second chance and the group who thinks he should live his life in prison.

I am and will always be the latter.

Maybe, instead of focusing on Vick to explain why I feel the way I do, it is time to explain myself.

However, before I do that, let me be clear about what Michael Vick was responsible for… At Bad Newz Kennels, they found the dead bodies of hundred of dogs.  They know that the dogs were electrocuted, drowned, raped, hung, tortured, starved etc… Vick was a part of all of this for a few years.  It was never a one-time incident.  It was not an accident.  These were conscious decisions made by him daily for years.

Now me… For all of my life that I can remember my heart has seen animals as little souls.  I have always saved them.  From baby birds to lost dogs, their lives were as important to me as my own.

Let me repeat that – their lives were as important to me as my own.

I think that last sentence differentiates some human beings.

For a myriad of reasons, not everyone feels that way.  I am not here to debate which is right- only to use that as the explanation for my pure hatred for Vick.

I have been a very involved animal advocate for the last 15 years.  I am beyond passionate about finding homeless dogs and cats homes.  I am a walking billboard against puppy mills.  I am these things not only because I have been in the trenches, but because my heart, the one I was born with, sees animals as sentient beings who have feelings.  I never had a choice about how I would feel towards animals, my love for them is who I am.

For people like me, who see animals this way, life can be painful.  There have been times where I felt my love for animals was a curse because my heart can break on a daily basis seeing the cruel acts people do to them.

When I walked into my first Amish dog auction, the pain and heartache I felt was beyond comprehension.  However, there are lots of people who could walk into one and maybe not feel anything at all.  That pain defines me.

I am not going to make assumptions, but I do believe that many of the Vick haters are people like me, who have been given hearts that love animals on a different level.  What he did to them wasn’t just bad, to us, it is beyond horrifying because we believe animals lives are as important as our own.  To us, Vick is no different than a serial killer.

How many people would think that Gacy, Bundy or Dahmer should be in the Virgina Tech Hall of Fame or come out of prison and be a NFL QB or end up a NFL coach?  I have to think not many.

To those of us with the curse of a huge heart for animals, this is how we see Vick.

I understand that might seem extreme, even bordering mentally ill, to some of you, but I am just being honest about who I am and who I think some of Vick’s other haters are.

I didn’t choose to love animals the way I do – it is just who I am.  Knowing what Vick did to those innocent dogs breaks me.

So, I get it – not everyone sees him as the evil monster I do and not everyone would save a mouse from a glue trap like I did.

To understand my hatred, you would have to understand my heart and the passion I have for animals.  While there are many days I wish I could look the other way and pretend the animal cruelty doesn’t bother me so deeply, in the end, I am grateful to have my heart and to fight for the voiceless.

I know that my heart is also my gift – my path in life.  I trust that I was given it knowing I would never give up. And, I won’t.

 

 

Tails: Puppy Mills Should Be Illegal Because They Force Animals to Suffer

I have been facing the harsh reality of puppy mills for nine years now.  Nine years of waking up in the middle of the night picturing thousands of dog suffering in silence and feeling helpless to make it stop.

Politicians, lobbyists, breeders, the AKC, Big Ag companies all continue to argue that there is nothing wrong with puppy mills.  They continue to fight every bill that comes along to help the dogs who have no voice.  It sickens me, it hardens me and it makes me question my faith in humanity.

The last two days I spent at my vet clinic.  Penelope, my mill rescue from 2009, is a Shih Tzu who is 12 years old now.  Since October, she has been getting re-occuring corneal ulcers.  They are extremely painful for her.  On Sunday, she looked so bad we really thought she was going to die.  Corneal ulcers are a common health issue for her breed.  We got her the medical treatment and medicine she needs, including pain meds, to help the ulcer heal again.  There is a good chance she will need surgery in the future if the ulcers keep happening.

Yesterday, I was at the clinic with Alice, my mill rescue from September.  She is also a Shih Tzu.  When she was rescued and I took her in, we really thought she was going to have to have her eyes removed.  She has terrible dry eye and since it went UNTREATED in the mill for so long, her eyes were in horrific shape.  I am happy to say that at her check-up yesterday her right eye is testing in normal range now thanks to the meds.  Her left eye shows minor improvement and we will be working on a new medical plan.  The good news is that her right eye is actually healthy and even if she has to lose her left eye at some point, she should always have vision in the right one.

Imagine if she was still in the mill?  Still suffering day in and day out?  No treatment, no medicine… She would go blind and live her life in total darkness and in constant pain.

Imagine if Penelope was still in the mill and her eyes began ulcerating like they are.  No one would take her to the vet to get her pain meds.  No one would get her the drops she needs to heal her eyes.  No one.

Ever scratch your eye or get something in it?  Ever have pink eye?  Remember that pain?  Remember how awful you felt.  What if you had to live your entire life in that kind of pain?

As I sat at the vet clinic the last few days I started to think that maybe the general public doesn’t really comprehend the medical needs going untreated in the puppy mills across the United States.  There are THOUSANDS of dogs not just living in crappy, rusty cages never to see the light of day, but THOUSANDS of dogs living in pain from health issues going completely untreated.

I looked at Penelope in the car on the way to the vet and saw her squinting and hiding her little head in her paws.  It was obvious her pain was excruciating.  There are so many Shih Tzu in mills across this country suffering just like her and NO ONE is getting them the help they need.

I thought about this all day.  And yes, I know that there are dog owners who sometimes fail to get their dogs treatment due to time or money.  They try, but for all kinds of reasons fail to get them the help they need.  Do I approve of such ownership?  No, of course not.  However, there is one drastic difference between a dog owner and puppy miller: profit.

A puppy miller is breeding mass amounts of dogs to make money!  They are making profit off the very dogs they refuse to give proper medical treatment to.  To me, this is when puppy mills not only become the definition of animal cruelty, but when they cross the line and become CRIMINAL and should be ILLEGAL.

How, as a first world country, can we allow these horrifying mass breeding operations to continue when we KNOW that thousands of dogs are SUFFERING.  SUFFERING – not just lonely or scared or unwanted, but in PAIN – horrible, CONSTANT pain.

So many of the popular breeds have medical issues that need monitoring.  As I mentioned, Shih Tzu and many of the flat face breeds have eye issues.  From dry eye to ulcers, to inward eyelids, these breeds often need medical treatment to live pain-free lives.  English Bulldogs have numerous skin issues.  If they are not kept properly cleaned in all of their skin folds, infection can become a huge issue.  King Charles Spaniels have heart issues. Huskies have autoimmune disorders  with sores and skin infections. German Shepherds are prone to hip dysplasia. Beagles often have Epilepsy. Cocker Spaniels get frequent ear infections.  Poodles are prone to glaucoma.  Chihuahuas can have collapsing trachea.  Maltese can get Shaking Syndrome.  Boston Terriers often get cherry eye.

These are just a few of the popular breeds found in puppy mills, all of which are prone to some illness or disease that is treatable with medications and/or surgery, yet NONE of these dogs will get this treatment in puppy mills. Instead, they will suffer – day in and day out.

Thousands of dogs have been rescued from mills demonstrating TIME AND TIME again that their medical conditions have gone untreated.  Some lose eyes, some lose legs, some have only weeks to live once they are pulled from the mill because their health is so compromised.

Why aren’t more puppy millers in jail?  Why isn’t this a CRIME?  What kind of society KNOWINGLY ALLOWS this type of cruel behavior to not only exist, but to THRIVE and to PROFIT?

Let me be clear… Puppy mills aren’t just cruel because thousands of dogs live in cages with no human contact.  THOUSANDS of dogs live every single day in pain – never to be treated by a veterinarian.  Never to get those eye drops, or pain meds, or anti-seizure medications.

Please BE THE VOICE for these animals who literally SUFFER in SILENCE day after day.

We MUST do better for them.

 

Tails: Before You Buy that Christmas Puppy…

Before you buy that puppy in the window at Petland or Furry Babies or whatever pet store is in your town, let me tell you about Alice.

Alice is a 5-year-old pure bred Shih Tzu.  The Rescue Warriors Corp. got her at a breeders auction at the end of September.  For 5 years Alice sat in a crappy cage churning out puppies for stores like Petland or Furry Babies or that pet store in your town.

When I got Alice she was skin and bones.  Her teeth were so rotted and infected that most of them had to be removed.  Her tongue hangs to the outside of her mouth.  My vet believes she was hit in the head with a bat or something hard and left her whole jaw off-center and her face partially paralyzed.  Her eyes were crusted with infection and she suffers chronic dry eye that was never treated until the day Rescue Warriors took her to the vet.  For the rest of her life she will get eye meds to, hopefully, prevent her from going totally blind.

The breeder who had her likely made $400-$500 off each of her puppies.  She was probably bred every heat cycle for at least 4 – 4 1/2 years.  On average let’s say she had 4 puppies in a litter – her breeder made at least $15,000-$20,000 off her babies and yet never once treated her eyes or got her medical attention for her head trauma.  He never spent money getting her teeth cleaned.  He pocketed ALL that cash and left her to rot in a rusty cage with no blankets or toys or decent food.

The pet store that sells her puppies sells them for $1000-$2000 each!  In the end, Alice’s puppies brought in over $70,000 and yet, poor Alice suffered in silence never seeing the light of day.

When you buy on-line or at a pet store that is what you are supporting: total greed, complete cruelty.

Alice’s medical needs are great, but it is her emotional well-being that is worse.  We have had Alice for about 2 1/2 months and while each day she generally makes progress, she is unlike a normal dog.  She flees each time someone coughs or sneezes or drops a pen on the floor.  For the first few weeks, she hid behind the wash machine, she pancaked between bookshelves.  She did everything she could to not exist.

Dogs raised in healthy environments do NOT react to families or homes like Alice does.  She didn’t know stairs.  She didn’t understand a leash.  She hadn’t a clue what to do with a toy.

When you buy a puppy at a pet store or on-line – you are supporting this cruelty.  You are saying it is OKAY to treat the parents of those puppies like Alice was treated.

I have spent hundreds of hours simply saying to Alice in my softest of voices, “It is okay.”  Those 3 words, again and again to re-assure her that not all humans are mean and neglectful.  Those 3 words to remind her she has a new future filled with love and compassion.

I am unsure what it takes to make people understand the connection between the pet store window and the puppy mill cage.  But let me say this with 100% certainty: there is a DIRECT connection.  You can’t wish it weren’t true or put your head in the sand and ignore it!  When you buy a puppy at pet store or on-line, YOU, let me repeat, YOU are contributing to the cruelty.  YOU are perpetuating the entire system.  YOU are saying that breeding dogs left behind are products and don’t matter.  YOU are part of the problem.

Over a million GOOD dogs will be killed this year simply because there isn’t enough shelter space for them.  Instead of contributing to the hell of puppy mills, YOU could adopt a dog from a shelter and YOU could SAVE A LIFE.

There are no excuses… there are plenty of purebreds in shelters. In fact, there are rescues for nearly every purebred breed there is.  Try looking on petfinder or adoptapet.  I guarantee you can find practically any dog you are looking for.  There are puppies in shelters and rescues, too… so again, NO EXCUSES.

And there is always the argument, and it is a good one, that mixed breeds are healthier dogs anyway.

My favorite dog to adopt is the senior dog.  They rarely need much training and want nothing more than a nice walk and comfy couch to hang out with you on.

Please do not be one of the ignorant people who thinks the only way to get a “good dog” is to buy one from the pet stores who propagate puppy mill cruelty.  I have worked in a county shelter where AWESOME dogs could be adopted for a mere $80.  Don’t fall for the crap that only dogs with baggage end up in shelters and rescues.  People give up their dogs for so many heartbreaking reasons like divorce, moving, bankruptcy, allergies, etc… Most, I repeat, MOST of the dogs in shelters are incredible dogs who could not only be great family dogs, but go on to be therapy dogs and service animals.

In my heart it is far more commendable and rewarding to be the person who saves a life than the one who buys a dog in a pet store and forces breeding dogs like Alice to live a life of neglect forever.

Please as you or a friend or colleague considers a Christmas pup this season, let Alice be your reminder to ADOPT never buy at a pet store or on-line.

If you want to learn more about puppy mills and breeders auctions, consider my book, Bark Until Heard.  It is my personal journey into the awful world of breeding, too few people know about.

Tails: People Can Be Prisoners in Animal Shelters, Too

It has been a decade since I worked in our county animal control.  Ten full years and there are moments I remember like they were yesterday.  The beautiful moments where the most unadoptable dog finally finds the perfect home.  And, the very ugly moments where I was forced to assist with the decapitation of a Mastiff who bit a small child.  Those ugly moments don’t just haunt me when I least expect it, they force me to look in the mirror today and ask, “Why didn’t you say something?”

There’s no doubt that I have made an enormous amount of rescue friends in the last decade.  Between the puppy mill auctions and my book, I have had the amazing opportunity to surround myself with true warriors.  Not only do they each continue to teach me on a daily basis, but if I am ever struggling with any animal issue, I know I can count on them to get me through.  I didn’t have that support system 10 years ago.  I was new.  I was naive.

Yet, I was still me and I tend NOT to take things lying down, especially when they concern the well-being of animals.  Hell, the whole reason I was at animal control was to HELP animals.  It certainly wasn’t the pay or great benefits.

What is it about working or volunteering in a shelter that brainwashes so many to look past all of the problems and all of the wrong-doings.  So many, like me, choose silence over action as we watch horrible things take place.  I look back on my days at AC and feel like I lost my voice for a few years.  I mean literally feel mute when I re-imagine those years.

Why didn’t I contact the local paper or go above my superior?  Why didn’t I quit sooner?  Why didn’t I try harder?  Yes, I loved so many of my days at the shelter, but the ones I didn’t like, truly those were grounds for media coverage and terminations.  There were things done illegally, inhumanely.  Yet, I looked away.

I think many people rationalize their inability to speak out for different reasons.  Some people believe that if they left or got fired for speaking out, “Who would look after the animals then?”  Yet, in hindsight, “Who is looking after the animals now, when the people who do care aren’t speaking out?”

I think while my heart knew better, I didn’t feel like I knew enough to take a stand.  Many of the employees had been there a long time and had been doing the bad shit for years, who was I to question them?  (Looking back… my stomach turns because I KNOW, without hesitation, I should I have reported it all.)  There is something to be said about trusting your intuition.  I should have trusted mine.

I think there are some people who don’t leave or question things simply because they enjoy the “god” persona.  There is something powerful for them about deciding who lives and who dies each day.  God help them.

As I look back on that time in my life, I can’t help but feel like a prisoner.  A part of an institution that kept me from speaking out for reasons I wasn’t even conscious of.  Unknowingly brainwashed  to keep the status quo and just keep working.  Truthfully, I am ashamed of myself when I look back on those days.  Knowing what I know today, I could have done so much more.

I wrote this blog to encourage others who work in shelters to REALLY look around at their practices.  If your gut is telling you that something is off, it probably is.  If you are new, but question if the practices are ethical, reach out to someone outside of the shelter and ask them for their opinion – even if they aren’t in rescue.

There are laws to protect people from being fired or banned from volunteering simply because they speak out against the shelter’s practices.

I look back on my time at the shelter and remember it feeling like the shelter was its own microcosm.  As if our actions were judged amongst only ourselves and never upheld to the ethical standards outside our 4 concrete walls.  As if, in our world, it was okay to have different rules.  It shouldn’t be like that.  Animals deserve to be treated humanely in ALL shelters, regardless of demographics or financial standing.

It is easy to portray the dogs and cats in cages as prisoners in the shelters, but the real prisoners are the employees and volunteers who believe their only choice is to continue their day-to-day work in silence, praying that the illegal practices and inhumane treatment of the animals comes to an end.

Don’t be a prisoner, be a hero.  Speak out today and truly change things for the animals.  I promise there is an army of people ready to help you.

 

Tails: 55+ – An Untapped Community for Foster Homes…

Yesterday I went on a home visit for a woman who is interested in becoming a foster for our rescue.  I met her at my book signing.  She is an older woman – in her 60’s or so.

I had briefly talked to her about fostering at the signing where I also met her 17-year-old dog who is now blind and deaf.  I knew that she had THE heart for rescue.

I followed my GPS  to her gated neighborhood, a 55+ community.  I drove through the tree-lined streets and noticed the manicured yards.  It was quiet and welcoming and safe.

She met me at the door, holding her little dog in her arms.  Warmly invited me in, asked if I wanted coffee or lemonade or anything at all.  We found comfy seats in the living room of the lovely ranch home.  (no stairs).

She talked for some time about all the dogs she has had.  She teared up a few times as she shared the ups and downs – the joy they gave and the illnesses they suffered.  She took me through the house to see the pictures of all the dogs who once shared her life.

We started to talk more about the actual idea of fostering.  She had questions that I was happy to answer.  I, too, had my standard set of questions.  Where will the dog go out, where will you keep it when you are gone, how long are you away from the home, is there a fence, will you walk the dog, where will you take it for vet care, what if the dog has behavior issues, etc…

As I sat there taking in her answers, I became overwhelmed.  Since she is retired, she would be spending most of every day with the dog, but if she needed to be gone more than a few hours, there was a myriad of friends with dogs living in the community who would come to let the dog out. “It is something we all do for each other.”

“We all take our dogs for walks at least 3 times a day.  Did you see the little park when you came in?  That is our dog park.  We all like to go there together.”

“Behavior issues?  Oh, well the lady next door had a little poodle who was nippy and took her to a great trainer a town away.  Another friend had one and we have all helped to socialize her.  She is so much better now.”

The more she talked, not just of herself, but of the community, I couldn’t help but say out loud,”This is the ideal setting for foster homes!”

And it is.  Here is a group of people who have the time and the communal resources to foster dogs.  They enjoy the socialization having a dog brings, they have each other to rely on for care, they have band together a group of resources whether it be training, vet care, or the internet.    They have an entire support system in place.  It was amazing!

She talked of her 90-year-old neighbor fostering a Yorkie.  She couldn’t believe the woman was able to say goodbye, but she pointed out that it was the woman who knew in her heart the young dog had the energy for a young family.  This group wasn’t just physically able to manage foster care, they were emotionally mature enough to know when to let them go.

The home visit was a complete success.  As I drove away, my heart felt so full of joy.  At 45, I contemplate mortality a lot more often now.  I worry about living life fully.  Well, here was an entire aging community willing to contribute to something I am passionate about.  I had to feel good about that.

I also had to stop and think if, as rescue people, we have given this population enough credit?  Have we ever really stopped to think of the untapped potential they offer?

Often rescues are hesitant to even adopt to seniors.  Sure the mortality odds aren’t in their favor, but anyone could die at any given time.  And frankly, the odds are not that good for the 2 million dogs who WILL be killed in shelters across America this year.  I am more than willing to place my bet on the senior population, willing to take the homeless dogs in and to offer them so much companionship and love.

The rescue community struggles amongst itself at times, arguing about what makes the best home and who should or shouldn’t be able to adopt.  We get so caught up in perfection, I think we fail to look at all the wonderful scenarios right in front of us.  There are 55+ communities in nearly every major city across America.  Imagine if we could take just a handful of fosters and place them every month, we would be opening up more kennel space, saving so many more dogs AND providing lifelong health benefits to the members of the communities.  We all know animal companionship leads to a longer and more fulfilling human life.

If, as a rescuer, you are still hesitant to involve a senior community, think about your own mortality for a few minutes.  When you are 60, 70, 80 even 90 do you see your life without a pet?  I didn’t think so…

Here are a few links to  55+ communities in the states.  Build your foster program today! #fosteringsaveslives

Del Webb

55+ USA Communities

55+ Community Guide

 

 

Tails: It is time to act like the superior species

It has been a tough few days.  The killing of Harambe has left me a bit rattled.  Yes, I am one of the judgmental people blaming the parents of the little boy who didn’t just “fall” into the enclosure, but chose to find his way in.  If it was that easy or could happen that fast, wouldn’t more children have done it?

I find it easier to place blame on the parents because neither appear sorry for what happened to Harambe.  Not one of them has expressed shame or sadness, let alone accountability for the death of Harambe.  I find that unbelievably selfish.

From what I have heard, this is not the first time their parenting skills have been questioned.  In fact, I heard on the news last night that they are being investigated by the Cincinnati police now. Good.

Harambe’s murder didn’t just spring from poor parenting, his murder brings to light the issue of zoos, altogether.  Many, or should I say most, who walk in my circle of animal welfare have come to recognize zoos as cruel places of immoral captivity.  Taking any wild animal and placing it in a concrete cage is less than freeing and certainly, when truly thought through, should be less than entertaining for compassionate people to observe.  Watching an African lion pace 100 strides back and forth is not fun nor does it bring a smile to my face.

Harambe was a critically endangered species of gorilla, a western lowland. He was brought in specifically to mate with the zoo’s females and help populate the species again.  It is for this reason, that there are proponents of the zoo.  Some argue, that while zoos are holding animals captive, they are doing so with the intent to save the many endangered species on our planet.

I have spent much of the last few days contemplating that concept.

Here are my questions… 1) If the true intent of zoos is conservation, why don’t they operate like a sanctuary?  I have been fortunate enough to work in a sanctuary.  Sanctuaries do not put their animals in constant view of people.  Animals are given very large spaces away from people, so they can live a life free of stress.  Sanctuaries, whenever possible, allow animals to return to the wild after they have healed.  I worked at a place called Safe Haven where we treated cougars, fox, bobcat, possum, etc… Some of the cougars were from zoos and were not able to return to the wild, but any other animal who came in was given minimal human interaction, so it’s chances for survival were great.  If Harambe, whose sperm was saved, is able to impregnate a few females who are then able to carry babies to term and deliver health baby gorillas, will those gorillas return to the wild or will they be locked up just like Harambe?

2) I find it painfully interesting that we as a nation are willing to invest millions of dollars in the captivity of animals for the so-called sake of preserving the species, but cannot put the same type of passion, effort and financial backing behind stopping the myriad of reasons species are endangered in the first place.  Poaching, lack of environmental control, corporate company destruction of varying species land, etc… these are the very reasons these animals have come to be endangered.  Why not spend the money to PREVENT the endangerment and allow the animals to thrive in their natural habitat and not a concrete cage?

3) Lastly, what are we preserving these endangered species for?  If we do not return them to the wild aren’t we just creating a larger collection of shoes to display?  Yes, I value the miraculous amount of different species of plants and animals on this planet.  It is heartbreaking to realize that so many have become extinct.  However, part of extinction is a result of evolution.  If we are simply saving species so that we can place them in a glass box and selfishly observe them, I don’t believe we are actually preserving life for the right reasons.  I am fairly confident that a life in a concrete cage, is not the life Harambe was seeking nor his creator.

We literally pluck wild animals from their environment and place them in concrete cages for our entertainment while justifying it by saying we are saving a species.  We really are that selfish.

Harambe died because of human ignorance and human greed.  Those are not the traits I find pleasing in a human race and neither should you.  We can and should do better.  We are supposed to be the most intelligent species of all with the intrinsic capability of compassion – it is time we show the animals of our planet that we are.  It is time we stop treating this planet like it was created solely for us.  It is time we finally act like the superior species and treat animals as they were meant to be treated with kindness and compassion and respect.

 

 

Tails: Why I am Content Blaming ALL the Amish for Puppy Mills

The other night as we drove through an area of Wisconsin known for Amish communities, I posted what I thought was an innocent comment about the Amish.  I simply said that it seemed to me that whomever the God was for the Amish s/he would prefer they use electricity, buy an iPhone, and drive a car than beat a horse to death or breed dogs in filth and neglect.

While many people liked and even shared my post, there were some who felt it was wrong of me to blame all of the Amish for those behaviors.  I get it.  While I have yet to meet an Amish or Mennonite who doesn’t breed dogs, I bet there are a few out there.

This subject of Amish puppy mills is one so dear to my heart and soul that even I admit I might not be able to use rational judgement.  I wrote an entire book based on the cruelty and neglect of Amish puppy mills, so I think it is safe to say that I am in pretty deep when it comes to the subject matter.

None the less, since it was a few of my dear friends who posted the charges against me, I had no choice but to dig deeper into my own feelings to figure out why it is I am so content blaming ALL Amish for puppy mills.

One basic truth is that not all puppy mills are run by Amish.  There are hundreds across the country run by “English” (people like me).  Those mills can be just as horrendous.

So, I started REALLY thinking about this… and here is my belief.  As English people, we have no problem protesting, legislating, even criminalizing heinous, cruel behavior towards animals.  I KNOW there are millions of English people taking a stand against puppy mills (against people just like us as far as race and religion, etc…) every single day.  I see it in the pet store protests, in the political lobbying, and in social media posts.  I know that while there are people in our culture propagating puppy mills, there are also people ACTIVELY fighting it.  It is hard to accuse an entire community of being cruel, when half of the community is speaking out against the cruelty.

I have yet to see or hear of a single Amish person actively fighting against puppy mills in their communities.  I have never heard of anyone in the Amish community taking a stand for the better treatment of animals.  Yes, there might be Amish families who do treat their farm animals with compassion or have a family dog who sleeps in the house on his own bed, but until  they are willing to publicly take a stand against puppy mills or animal cruelty, they are only permitting the awful acts to continue.

I blame ALL Amish for puppy mills because no one within their community is trying to change anything.  I firmly believe that until members of their own community come out against the cruelty, they are all to blame.

Turning a blind eye to cruelty should be a crime.  The Amish people need to take responsibility for the actions of everyone in their community.  If they want to truly be the “kinder, gentler people,” they should be willing stand up and fight for the beliefs and actions that truly represent a kind community.  Keeping dogs in small wire cages, covered in feces and breeding them until they die is not what I consider a kind act.

It IS wrong to blame an entire community or race or religion based on the heinous acts of a few, however, when no one in that community appears to be against the heinous act, it isn’t a false accusation of blame, it is actually the truth.

 

 

Tails: Fostering- a Dichotomy of Heartbreak and Hope

This Friday I will say goodbye to my foster dog, Maisy.  I am teary eyed just typing the sentence.  Maisy was a 12 year old owner surrender to Chicago Animal Control.  I happened about her picture on Facebook one day and noticed that no rescues had come to her rescue.  Her picture was gut wrenching.  A tiny little furball who looked beyond scared and neglected.  Her eyes pierced my soul and immediately, I found myself on a mission to free her.

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At the time, our rescue wasn’t able, but by the time we got her pulled, circumstances changed (as rescue is always changing) and she became ours.  I took her to an ISO at a vet clinic outside the city.  Maisy had half the coat she should, mostly elephant skin… Her ears were infected, she smelled like she hadn’t been bathed in years, her nails were curled into her legs… The dog was a hot mess.  (If I had a favorite breed, it would be “hot mess.”)

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She spent a week at the vet clinic.  I went to visit her in the basement where they kept her.  I wasn’t at all impressed with the situation and as soon as she was cleared from the canine flu, I drove there and got her out.  Maisy is tiny.  Weighing in at only 9 pounds, she seems just skin and bones.  Frail in some ways and feisty in others.  She is resilient.  She is a survivor.

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I have spent the last 10 years immersed in rescue and animal welfare and though I am often surrounded by dogs in need, there are just certain ones that find their way directly into my heart.  Maisy is one of those dogs.

Her eyes, well, they saved her life because they are so profound.  She is not blind like we initially thought from the picture.  But, she does have dry eye and will probably always need eye meds.  Whether her lack of coat is from mange or diet or allergies or stress, we have every possible issue covered.  In the last two weeks, her hair has started to grow back.  Her eyes sparkle and her smell… I took care of that, too.  She still has far to go to appear, “normal,” but truthfully, I don’t see any of her scars or illnesses anymore.  I only see her as the lovable, sassy dog she always was.

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My three dogs aren’t the best hosts.  You would think since they were each once foster dogs, they would understand the situation better and be kinder.  Instead, they cling to the pack they know and sadly, shun most others who come for a stay.  They would never hurt her or any dog.  They just don’t go out of their way to make anyone else feel welcome.  Maybe they think you have to earn your right to stay?  I don’t know.

What I do know is that Maisy longs for someone to play with.  It appears she has never seen a cat before and has resorted to practically begging our cats to play.  She tosses her own toys and plays fetch with herself.  My dogs just look on with irritation and eyes that seem to ask,”When will she be leaving?”

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A few years ago, I would have kept Maisy.  It wouldn’t have mattered if she fit in with my group.  It wouldn’t have mattered what the rest of my family thought.  The reality was I couldn’t bear to let a dog go.

That is until two years ago when Lin, our President, sent me the picture of my foster dog with her new family. There she was, sitting on the lap of her new owner, as the couple drove away waving goodbye in their convertible.  I wasn’t there, but the picture was proof enough that the dog found her perfect home and that it would be a happy ending.  I suddenly realized that I didn’t have to “keep”  them all in order for them to be fully loved and cared for.

Fostering is hard.  You are letting someone into your heart knowing full well that they will leave and you will be crushed.  Many foster dogs require a lot of attention and care.  They might need meds and baths and training.  Often you give more to them when they are with you than your own dogs.  You give them everything without a second thought because you see in their eyes how thankful they are to be safe, to be cared for and to be loved.

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Friday is only a few days away.  I have already teared up a dozen times in anticipation of saying goodbye.  I always worry that Maisy, or any foster, will think I didn’t love them, that they weren’t good enough to keep.  After all they have been through, it kills me to believe they could think that.  I only want them to know how deserving of a family they truly are.

I am fortunate this time because Lin is going to foster her.  I have known Lin for a long time.  I have stayed at her home, I have snuggled with her dogs.  I KNOW Maisy will be loved.  None the less, my heart will break a little on Friday because when I take in a dog, any dog, I love it with everything I have.  Maisy is no exception.

Here’s the hard truth about fostering.  If I hadn’t fostered Maisy, she would have been dead by now.  No other rescues came forward to save her.  She was a senior in need of a lot of care.  She is the kind of dog who enters a shelter everyday and rarely gets the chance to leave alive.  Sometimes, I think, people think I, and others like me, exaggerate when we say things like that, but it is the honest truth.  Millions of dogs, just like Maisy, will be killed this year simply because there wasn’t an available foster home to save them.

Fostering is emotionally challenging, but to actually KNOW you are saving a life – there are very few things that can be so rewarding.  I will cry, maybe for days, but Maisy will live on for years to come.  She will dazzle others with her personality. She will melt hearts with her eyes.  She will become part of a family.  She gets her second chance.

My tears are selfish and  short-lived, but fostering is selfless and life-changing.  Please, if you love dogs (or cats) and have temporary space in your home, consider becoming a foster.  There are so many great rescues across the country looking for you.  And, there are so many dogs like Maisy, who long for a second chance to be loved.

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Tails: Why I Cry Over Puppy Mills

I am rattled right now.  Somehow, I found myself on the People for PetOWNership  Facebook page.  On that page, they talk about how the protestors of pet stores are liars and lunatics. They actually say the protestors are simply overwhelmed by crazy animal rights propaganda and are acting out without knowing the facts.

What?  No, really, what?

I expressed my view 3 different times.  Explaining that pet store protestors are not acting out nor are they liars or lunatics.  The people protesting the pet stores are there to EDUCATE the unknowing public on where those puppies come from.  They are there to explain that USDA licenses don’t mean didley squat.  They are there to share their stories, often their own personal horrors dealing with pet stores and puppy mills.

Here is why I am rattled…  Lots of people fight for lots of things.  The first amendment, the second amendment, non GMO food, pro-choice, pro-life, you name it.  I fight to end the business of puppy mills.  I didn’t pick that fight because it looked interesting.  I didn’t pick that fight because I LOVE dogs.  The fight picked me.  One day, I found myself among hundreds of mill dogs and my heart broke and my soul shattered.  In front of me were dogs so neglected they didn’t even know what a human hand was.  They didn’t know grass or toys or solid ground.  They most certainly did not know love.

I never thought I would write an animal welfare book, but when you are looking into the empty eyes of a dog, whose tail isn’t wagging and whose body is so stiff and unflinching when you gently touch it – you write a book to share that experience with the hope that people will read it and learn and want to change things.

I spent years after the auctions crying  myself to sleep.  I would picture the dogs who weren’t rescued, still matted and scared.  I would picture them in another barn left alone to rot.  In the middle of the night, I would reach out for Thorp or Penelope and feel tears run down my cheeks because I recalled the thousands of dogs who go without decent food, clean water and even minimal vet care across the country, sitting in USDA licensed kennels who will never see the light of day, let alone a toy or fuzzy bed.

I am rattled tonight because I feel like I can never scream the truth loud enough.  I don’t make this shit up.  Thousands of dogs are rotting away in over 10,000 mills across our country.  Most of them ARE USDA licensed.

My skin has thickened over the last 8 years. I don’t cry as much and I try not to picture the dogs I know who are suffering right now.  The dogs who have eye infections, mammary tumors, and broken legs who will never get the treatment they need and will sit alone in some rusty cage enduring pain for the rest of their silent life.

But, when someone calls me a liar or my fellow rescuers, lunatics, I become enraged.  My heart races and my blood boils not because I “believe” these cruel things about mills to be true, but because I have SEEN these things and KNOW they are true.

One look across my room and there they are laying in front of me.  Two of the thousands of mill dogs, Thorp and Penelope.  Each dealt a horrifying hand at life.  Over 4 years in a mill.  4 years that took 8 years to erase and yet, scars for both of them remain today.

Do NOT call me a liar or a lunatic.  Walk in my shoes and see with my eyes what I have seen and then have the courage or the ignorance to tell me I am a liar.  Anyone who can live through what I witnessed and still believe that USDA licensed kennels are okay, is inhuman.  At the very least, has ZERO compassion for animals.

Do NOT ever call me a liar or a lunatic.  I have witnessed a truth so hideous that I will spend the rest of my life fighting against it.  My heart felt pain and my soul felt anger in such ways that I can never fully express, but each day I use those feelings to make a difference.  I believe, with all of my heart and soul, that I was in that barn for a reason and what I saw fuels my passion to keep going.

I cry over puppy mills because I physically walked through them.  With my very own hands, I pulled mill dogs from crappy cages and hugged them for the very first time.  I saw the fear in their eyes, the desperation in their souls.

And, I still see the ones we couldn’t save – Every. Single. Day.

To learn more about my experience and the truth about pet stores and puppy mill dogs, check out my book,  Bark Until Heard.

 

 

 

Tails: RTO – The Low Hanging Fruit No One is Trying to Pick

There’s celebration in Wisconsin this week.  A bill passed to shorten the stray hold in shelters.  Oh, you probably can’t hear the party, because not everyone is celebrating.  Lost Dogs Wisconsin along with their umbrella organization, Lost Dogs America, tried very hard to stop the bill.  “Why?” you may ask… Well, Lost Dogs America, an ALL volunteer organization, helped reunite over 30,000 families and dogs in 2015.  It seems they know a thing or two about the bonds between pets and their owners.  They are also painfully well aware that most of the shelter systems in WI are broken.  Return to Owner (RTO) rates are tragic with many of the big shelters not making RTO a priority and rarely attempting to find owners or list found dogs on their websites.

LDA pleaded with WI legislation to fix the shelter systems BEFORE shortening the stray hold, but, sadly, they went ahead and passed the bill with no necessary improvements for shelters.  Basically, in the vast state of WI, you now have only 4 days, that is 96 hours, to find your lost dog at a shelter before they can adopt it out, transfer it to a rescue in or out of state, or kill it.  There was some stipulation for a longer hold UNLESS the dog was ill, or its behavior was a danger to the public.  The reality is those two exceptions are subject to so much interpretation that a shelter can act however it sees fit.  One bad cough or loud growl and your dog could be heading over Rainbow Bridge long before you could ever locate him.

Yes, there are statistics that back-up some of the advantages of shorten stray holds.  Stats that show more dogs move through the shelter system quicker – HOPEFULLY resulting in more live release rates, but not always.  I don’t think anyone really challenged those stats, but, instead, argued that in the world of rescue and animal welfare, we should be trying to preserve the human-animal bond, not destroy it.

Return to Owner is an area of animal welfare few people talk about.  You certainly don’t hear the big guys talk about it much (Best Friends, HSUS – both groups who lobbied in favor of the bill).  Yet, RTO seems like an area shelters and rescues should dedicate resources to.  Why are they so willing to spend time and money on adoptions and transfers (even euthanasia) when there is a really good chance the dog sitting in the kennel already has a home?

I remember working at my county animal control… we had a binder for lost dog reports and when dogs would come in, we would check the binder.  We would also check it before placing the dog on the adoption side or euthanizing him.  However, we didn’t really do much else.  There the dog sits for a week and we just “hope” someone calls or comes in for him.

Not everyone who loses a dog knows where to look or even what to do.  LDA is trying hard to change that by educating those who contact them on the many avenues there are to find your dog, from fliers to website postings, to calling every vet, shelter and animal control in a 100 mile radius.  The truth is unless you are active in the rescue world, not many people know all the shelters and vet clinics in the area.  Rescue people take that kind of knowledge for granted.

LDA partners with Helping Lost Pets.  Helping Lost Pets has an INTERNATIONAL, FREE database that allows individuals, shelters, vet clinics, etc. to post lost and found dogs (as well as pinpoint sightings) on a map based system.  It is truly brilliant.  I did mention is was FREE, right?  Yet, there are shelters across the country NOT using it?  Shelters right in WI who choose to do nothing instead.  How does that make sense?  An animal shelter should be using all possible resources to get that dog home.

RTO is really the low-hanging fruit when it comes the array of possibilities of getting a dog out of the shelter.  To adopt a dog out, he has to stay for the stray hold period, might need medical care, he has to pass some type of temperament test or behavior assessment, he needs to have all his vaccines and be neutered, he has to sit on the adoption side waiting for the right person to want him, maybe he goes to adoption events.  Once someone adopts him, there is a fairly decent chance, he will be returned and the entire cycle starts again.

To transfer a dog, the shelter has to have partnerships with rescues in the area that they manage, the dog has to stay for the stray hold period, be medically treated,  the shelter has to reach out to rescues hoping someone will take him, they have to arrange transfer dates and at times vaccinate and neuter the dog before the rescue will take him.

To euthanize a dog, he has to stay for the stray hold, he has to be behaviorally assessed, he might have to be medically treated and, then, the decision is made to be euthanized.  For most shelter workers, that is the hardest and saddest part of the job – placing unbelievable amounts of stress and depression on shelter workers, causing them to quit the job sooner.

To return a dog to owner, the shelter simply has to post the lost dog in a database.  When the owner comes to get the dog there might be microchipping or a neuter involved, but there is no behavior assessment, no extended shelter time and rarely a chance that the owner is going to return the dog a few days later.  RTO is ALWAYS a quicker, happy ending.

RTO is not a number many shelters use to measure success, but if your dog gets lost wouldn’t you want to believe that getting him back home is part of the shelter’s responsibility as an animal welfare organization?  Wouldn’t you want to assume that a shelter’s first priority is to find the owner, not just get the dog out the shelter?

My favorite phrase is, “Dogs don’t fall from the sky.”  Not really just a phrase, a fact, right?  Yes, in some areas strays are a prevalent reality.  Yes, some people (very few) lose their dogs and don’t even try to find them.  I have found quite a few dogs in my 45 years and not one has been a stray.  Each one had a family desperately looking for them.  Interesting that when good Samaritans find dogs they almost always make incredible attempts to find the dog’s owner, yet, shelters and rescues don’t?  The irony… and the very sad reality that needs to change NOW.